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New on streaming in December 2016: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO’s best options

For when you need an escape from holiday entertainment.

Devon Terrell plays a young Barack Obama in the upcoming Netflix original Barry.
Devon Terrell plays a young Barack Obama in the upcoming Netflix original Barry.
Netflix

The end of the year is typically a harried time, what with all the social and financial obligations surrounding the holiday season — which means it’s also a perfect time to ignore all those obligations, stay in, and watch something great (and preferably not holiday-related) instead.

December’s streaming additions offer plenty of options for doing just that, with a nice blend of new original content, some acclaimed movies from early 2016 you may have missed, and a few older classics that are the definition of cinematic comfort food.

So when you need a break from the holiday hullabaloo, try cueing up one of the following movies or TV shows, all of which are perfect for helping you forget all the things you’re supposed to finish before the end of the year.

New in December on Netflix

White Girl (available December 1)

Elizabeth Wood’s feature directorial debut received warm notices out of Sundance earlier in the year, particularly for its star, Morgan Saylor. (You might know her better as Dana Brody from Homeland — and that might not necessarily be a plus for this movie in your book.) It’s your classic “good girl meets bad boy, then leaves behind everything she previously was to keep him” narrative. But where lots of versions of that story demonize the characters for their bad choices, Wood has real empathy for her lead character’s screw-ups.

Beverly Hills Cop (available December 1)

Eddie Murphy’s groundbreaking turn as Axel Foley was one of the most successful comedies of all time, both financially and critically. But in 1984, a black cop from Detroit upending the expectations and norms of an all-white police squad wasn’t just excellent film fare — it was revelatory satire. Murphy oozes charm, confidence, a mastery of physical comedy and improvisation (including a whole ad-libbed monologue), and a complete awareness of how unsettling his presence is to the upper-crust white society he’s invaded. Watching him gradually seduce one officer after another (especially a perpetually delighted Judge Reinhold) into helping him take on a high-profile drug smuggler will restore your faith in comedy’s ability to serve as the most searing of all social commentaries.

Fuller House, season two (available December 9)

It’s entirely possible you’ve tried to forget Fuller House exists. We wouldn’t blame you. But there’s somewhat compelling evidence that when season one debuted back in February, it actually lowered traditional TV ratings. So of course Netflix was going to make more, and season two appears to feature the Fuller House gang celebrating every single holiday they can think of, to keep with the month’s festive mood. Also, Stephanie kisses Kimmy’s little brother, which can only end well.

Barry (available December 16)

One of the less expected trends of the 2016 movie year has been “films about young Barack Obama,” thanks to Southside With You (which follows Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date) and this, which follows his days at Columbia University in New York. Here, Devon Terrell plays the future 44th president as a young man who’s unsure of where he fits in — and worries the answer to that is “nowhere.” It’s a more subdued, internal film than you might expect, but it could be a good way to commemorate the last month of Obama’s presidency.

Captain America: Civil War (available December 25)

Given that the third Captain America entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of 2016’s highest-grossing films, chances are good that those interested in the Russo brothers’ second Cap sequel have already seen it. But it’s well worth revisiting, and not just because it sets up about 15 MCU movies to come. Civil War engages with some heady ideas regarding government oversight and wartime collateral damage, all wrapped up in the trappings of a sticky revenge thriller. Plus, the big airport showdown between feuding Avengers factions is one of the most purely grin-inducing superhero set pieces ever, one of the few compelling arguments for the ever-expanding bloat of the MCU.

New in December on Hulu

Pulp Fiction (available December 1)

Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 neo-noir dark comedy classic bent a lot of moviegoers’ minds with its nonlinear storytelling about hit men, a gangster’s wife, bandits, and a boxer. The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and garnered an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and it manages to be both a cult favorite and one of the most important films of all time.

The Legend of Drunken Master (available December 1)

In 1978’s Drunken Master made a name for a then-unknown 24-year-old Jackie Chan thanks to its brilliant fight sequences and Chan’s ability to combine incredible martial arts with physical comedy. Years later, as an international star, Chan returned to tackle the story of 19th-century martial arts artist Wong Fei-hung with The Legend of Drunken Master, a reboot of the first film that repeats Wong’s journey from alcoholic wastrel son to a master of Zui Quan, or drunken fighting, but with a rollicking heist trajectory thrown in. As with the first film, what makes The Legend of Drunken Master stand out are the extended, intense fighting sequences — but with Chan at his peak and with a major studio budget at his disposal, these fight scenes are arguably even more entertaining.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (available December 1)

If you’re ever in need of a warm and heartfelt distraction, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a solid option. The adaptation of Ann Brashares’s hit novel follows its source’s splintering into four different teen girl perspectives as they spend a summer apart, connected only by the single pair of jeans that somehow fits them all. Also, the four women are played by America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, and Alexis Bledel circa 2005, which can make for some excellent “aw, remember when?” moments.

This Is Spinal Tap (available December 1)

You can trace the rise of comedy’s “mockumentary” style right back to This Is Spinal Tap’s ruthlessly funny satire of outlandish rock star exploits and the people who indulge them. As written by and starring Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Rob Reiner (who also directed), This Is Spinal Tap is packed with so many jokes that it’ll take at least a couple of viewings to catch them all. Might as well reserve an evening to settle in and crank this movie up to 11.

Stories We Tell (available December 3)

Director and actress Sarah Polley started out making a documentary about her parents, and especially about the life and loves of her mother. But in the course of making the film, she discovered something about herself that upended everything she thought she knew to be true. This deeply moving picture is a formally inventive, thoughtful documentary — and one that it’s best you know as little about as possible before watching.

New in December on Amazon Prime

Lars and the Real Girl (available December 1)

For a whimsy-packed story about a reclusive loner and the sex doll he insists is his real live girlfriend, Lars and the Real Girl is a remarkably sincere movie. Much of the credit for that goes to Ryan Gosling’s performance as the titular Lars, but it’s also due to the script’s approach of treating Lars’s delusion with empathy and relative nuance. The people around Lars worry about the emotional connection he’s formed with “Bianca,” but they also indulge his fantasy because they believe it will help him in the long run. That Lars mostly sidesteps all the potential problems its wacky premise implies is a tiny miracle.

The Lobster (available December 2)

Set in a dystopian near future, The Lobster is a (very) dark comedy about how we expect people to form relationships — and their status when they don’t. Colin Farrell plays David, who is sent to the hotel to which all single people must go and find a mate within 45 days. If they don’t, they are transformed into beasts and sent into the wild for good. It’s stark, biting, and brutally funny.

Mozart in the Jungle, season three (available December 9)

Mozart in the Jungle won a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy TV Series last year, along with one for Gael García Bernal as its lead. But don’t take it too seriously. In its first two seasons, Mozart in the Jungle was a perfect antidote for the era of Too Much TV, a lighthearted comedy about professional musicians and trying to make it in the big city. With Bernal and Lola Kirke leading the cast, it’s pure delight.

Anomalisa (available December 17)

Charlie Kaufman’s puppet-based dramedy is fairly light on the second part of that portmanteau; it’s an incredibly sad film at heart, and most of the laughs to be had are of the nervous and/or ironic variety. But nonetheless, it’s a movie experience like few others. The film’s stop-motion puppet animation is purposefully unsettling — especially during a weird and lovely sex scene — and thankfully humanized with soulful voice performances from David Thewlis (as a depressed sales rep at a bland convention) and especially Jennifer Jason Leigh (as an insecure young woman who catches his eye).

Café Society (Available December 22)

Woody Allen’s latest movie throws an all-star cast — from Kristen Stewart to Blake Lively to Steve Carell — into 1930s Hollywood, where screwball romances and foiled Oscar campaigns reign supreme. Jesse Eisenberg plays Allen’s requisite neurotic creative, who falls in love with Stewart’s character while accidentally-on-purpose romancing Lively’s. (All things considered, he could have it a whole lot worse.) Café Society didn’t make a huge splash when it debuted, but hey, it sure is pretty!

New in December on HBO Now

Singles (available December 1)

The 1990s revival is still going strong, so join in on the cultural regression with a viewing of what might be the most ’90s movie ever: Singles, Cameron Crowe’s paean to the Seattle grunge scene and the Gen-Xers who inhabited it. Centering on the romantic entanglements of two central couples and their various associates, Singles is ostensibly a rom-com — and Crowe’s effervescent dialogue matches that tone well — but it’s more notable as a relatively authentic time capsule of a specific cultural milieu that’s since been appropriated and diluted by modern trends.

They Live (available December 1)

Director John Carpenter’s action-satire of 1980s yuppie America has become exemplary of anyone who can’t quite believe the out-of-whack priorities of all the idiots they’re forced to live near. In it, a man finds sunglasses that allow him to see that aliens have taken over the planet by disguising themselves as the rich and powerful — and he launches a one-man war to take it back. It’s also the movie that contains the famous line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Keanu (available December 3)

Keanu is a pretty stupid comedy, but one with great performers: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) take their act to the big screen, playing buddies who pretend to be drug dealers in order to get back a kitten (named Keanu). In keeping with the pair’s usual themes, Keanu turns absurd situations into a way of exploring the nuances of code switching and how we expect people to “perform” race in America. (The kitten turns in a good performance too.)

Midnight Special (available December 17)

The first 2016 film from director Jeff Nichols (who also directed the new Loving) is soulful science fiction at its best; those who’ve recently seen and dug Arrival should definitely check out Midnight Special, which has a similar tone, but with a more spiritual thematic bent, as well as a deep, complicated central story about parents and children. Blending elements of the heist film, the road movie, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Nichols’s film is a slow burn that metes out its set pieces frugally, but great performances from Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Joel Edgerton keep the flame bright throughout.

Hail, Caesar! (available December 24)

The Coen brothers’ homage to old Hollywood features Josh Brolin as a high-powered fixer experiencing both a crisis of faith and a crisis of vocation during a few particularly screwy days. There’s also synchronized swimming siren Scarlett Johansson, tap-dancing Channing Tatum, philandering centurion George Clooney, gossip columnist Tilda Swinton, and a shadowy cabal of communists. It’s pure confection with an ethical core.

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